Filmed in 1949 by William Wyler, The Heiress depicts the romance gone bad from Henry James's 1880 novel, Washington Square. This story of love, greed, and honor is well adapted from the novel. However, I have to say the movie was much better and far more entertaining. We, the readers, of the original Washington Square, get the impression that Catherine, played in the movie by Olivia de Havilland, the daughter of well-known Dr. Sloper, depicted in the film by Ralph Richardson, is as plain, naive, and unwitty throughout the majority of the movie as she is in the book. Her mentality changes, along with her physical characteristics. Catherine is so young and dumb when she falls in love with Morris, portrayed on screen by Montgomery Clift. The love overtakes her and almost makes her a bit more naive and lost in a fantasy world of her own.
After having her father disagree with her decision to marry and his cruel words towards her, Catherine begins to harden up her personality. Dr. Sloper tells his own daughter that she will never be as bright and beautiful as her mother and that she is unclever and basically outright dumb in his eyes. Would this not turn you cold-hearted? Not only does it turn Catherine into a cold-hearted woman, but also it renders her bold and unemotional.
Her apathy shows through to us for the first time, especially on screen, when her father dies. That was completely opposite to the way she acts in the book, when she cares for him till he is gone. In the movie she does not even bother to leave the park to go home while he is on his deathbed. (Ouch!)
Once again she proves her boldness when Morris comes back to her to apologize about leaving and not eloping. Catherine tells him to go pack and she will give him a second chance to marry her, as she does not do in the book. He returns to her estate excited and ready to gain his half of her fortune, when suddenly no one answers the door. It is funny, in my opinion, to see a female act so towards a male. Normally it is the other way around, especially in such an old movie. At this point I was laughing as he watched her light disappear up the staircase. He has realized he has been tricked.
What else do you expect from a relationship that happened in a matter of days between a naive young woman and an experienced scoundrel in both book and movie?!